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A Washington State University wine science center could be near reality within two years. A fundraising campaign to raise private and public funds to build the center at WSU’s Tri-Cities branch has already garnered significant donations.

Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s viticulture and enology program, said that wine industry needs were identified by an industry research task force and from a needs assessment conducted by WSU. The wine science center has been identified as a priority on the list, but there are other important needs:

  • Wine science center at the Tri-Cities campus—$21.5 million
  • Completion of the viticulture and ­enology center and research winery at WSU’s Prosser station—$3 million
  • Endowment of two professorships—$3 million
  • Additional greenhouse facilities— Prosser and Tri-Cities
  • Scholarships and graduate work ­operating funds
  • Ongoing research at WSU’s new research vineyard
  • Collaborative research

Wine science center

The wine science center will help meet growing research and production needs by developing ways to improve wine grape production and, ultimately, improve wine quality. Henick-Kling pointed out that a benefit of the center would be its close proximity to wine grape production, something that other university wine research facilities lack. Neither the University of California, Davis, nor Cornell University in New York is situated in the heart of wine grape growing.

The 45,000-square-foot science center would house a gravity-flow research and teaching winery, state-of-the-art research laboratories, grape and wine analysis laboratory, controlled temperature rooms, filtration and bottling equipment, classrooms, and offices. Additionally, the facility would include a teaching vineyard, regional and international wine library, and greenhouses for vine propagation and physiology research.

“A campaign committee is going after the wine science center first, but it’s only a piece of the industry’s needs,” said Henick-Kling.

Unlike the tree fruit industry that has a mechanism to raise research funds through the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, the wine industry has no real means. The Washington Wine Commission taxes growers and wineries primarily for promotion. In recent years, the commission has allocated 5 percent of its budget for research, which is less than $200,000.

The science center has strong support from the city of Richland, Benton County, and Port of Benton County, Henick-Kling said. Project supporters are considering calling for the creation of a Public ­Development Authority to oversee ­development of the center. PDAs are government-owned, nontaxing public corporations that can be created by local governments to collect and spend public and private funds. Pike’s Place Market in Seattle is an example of a PDA.

The center would be located on four acres adjacent to WSU Tri-Cities owned by the Port of Benton County. Henick-Kling said that federal funds could go to equip the facility, while state funds could help build it. About $8 million of the $21 million campaign is budgeted for equipment needed for the world-class center.

Cabinet

An industry group informally called the Wine Science Center Cabinet has met throughout the past year to organize a fundraising drive that will be announced in December. Ted Baseler, president and chief executive officer of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will lead the fundraising efforts with the goal of raising about 70 percent from private sources.

“The wine science center is the most significant part of the capital campaign for enology and viticulture and the most needed,” he said.

Baseler notes that some pledges have already been secured. There is great cooperation with the local cities and county and within the university, he added. “The focus on the initiative by the university is a big help. WSU President Elson Floyd and the administration are the most supportive we’ve seen in a long time. And that applies to Governor Christine Gregoire as well. We are a big piece of the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences’s capital campaign.”

He is optimistic funding will be secured and groundbreaking for the ­center will happen within two years.

“I’m excited,” Baseler said. “I have chaired a lot of different campaigns through the years, and while this is personal, the cabinet has a lot of excitement about the project that you don’t always see. There are some very excited zealots on the cabinet.”